Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Published: 30th January 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin Random House Australia
Pages: 235
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.

Lawrinson has written an incredibly sweet story about love and mental health and about having a family member experience something that you will never understand completely but something that will affect you in so many ways. There are some really beautiful moments and Lawrinson does an excellent job expressing the confusion Amelia has about her dad. Her yearning for him to see her, to understand her and to her watch their connection come and go as she struggles to understand what he is going through and what she will do when he’s gone.

As a character Amelia was unique and I loved her curiosities. I love how she expresses herself with her art, it was a great way to explore her emotions and who she is. Her obsession with September 11 footage and videos was intriguing too and it shows a side of her character that was different and enlightening. Lawrinson provides great insight into why she watches and rewatches them and it was a fascinating and unexpected character trait but one that I think worked well.

The relationship between Amelia and Eleanor was a curious one, the teenager/adult friendship felt strange but I did understand, I think, why Amelia is drawn to her. What I definitely wanted though was more about Poppy. I loved her character and needed to see more of her. Lawrinson mentions that Amelia and Poppy become close friends and go to each other’s houses, but we know almost nothing about her. She is a side character, one that barely get any depth. We know more about her mother Eleanor than we do Poppy which was such a shame. It felt like she was meant to be a more fleshed out character, she is mentioned a lot, but the friendship with Amelia never comes across on the page.

The focus is on Amelia’s experiences so many characters get mentioned in passing but eventually the focus comes around and we get a bit more exploration of their characters but nothing overly substantial. The narrative covers a range of mental health issues, how they affect those around them as much as how they affect those suffering from them. Not only is Alzheimer’s a key plot point but so is anorexia and alcoholism. For a quick read is has a lot of heart to it. Some parts could have been fleshed out more but I enjoyed what story we had and found the sweetness and the emotion in what was on the page.

You can purchase Before You Forget via the following

BooktopiaDymocks | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Published: 26th February 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic
Pages: 372
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

The last thing she needs is a prince. The first thing she needs is some magic.

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land—and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

This is a fairytale through and through. There are talking dogs, princesses and a kingdom to defend and it has so many fabulous and magical moments it is pure delight. I loved how Nix causally throws in comments and lines as if they are perfectly normal sentences when they are not. It is makes reading a lot of fun and adds another layer of humour to enjoy. It is part of the fairytale trope or style I suppose that these things just happen but it was also great having this matter of fact, ‘what are you going to do about it?’ approach as well.

Anya is a great kid, she is thirteen which is hard to remember at times because of the things she achieves, but it is also a great reminder when she is doing these great deeds that she is only a child. There are moments where Anya realises how sheltered her life has been and you see her grow as she comes to understand the imbalance in the world and learn about kindness and the danger of too much power. It is a nice message that works well in the narrative and put in a way kids can appreciate without it being too heavy handed.

The story is filled with small moments and epic Quest moments which balance wonderfully. The individual characters are unique and help make this story feel like a classic fairy tale as well as a new type of story that brings the whole world to life. It is fun and filled with magic, friendships and Nix has established a vivid world that feels new while still cementing itself as a clear fairytale story with a villain, a goal, and a hero.

This is easily an adult or kid book and I think both audiences will have different things to take away from it. Even young kids will love this, it is filled with adventure and Quests, it’s funny but not silly, and Nix knows all the right moves to pull to make a great fairytale story new and exciting whilst also relying on the old and beloved.

You can purchase Frogkisser! via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

DymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Published: 14th May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 421
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colours shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

This is the alternate reality we all wanted in 2016 and while it’s good to see what was possible in an ideal world, it also felt slightly over the top at times. It isn’t just the reimaging of the 2016 election, it’s also a complete rewrite of the British monarchy with a lot of perfect world mentalities that aren’t always refreshing and sometimes come across as plain unrealistic.

It was an enjoyable narrative, I wasn’t head over heels about it but I liked the characters, they were interesting and had complexities and their own issues to overcome. This is a modern story with the realisation that not everyone is a white male and seeing such a diverse group of characters come together in one book and administration was great. The romance between Henry and Alex is sweet, I liked the secrecy and their slow but fast relationship, and while I understood the risks, I wasn’t obsessed with this romance. You spend a lot of time waiting for the secrets to be exposed, but it was interesting to see the build-up and the anticipation kept me engaged because I wanted to see how it would play out.

The guise of international relations and meetings helps push this relationship along with plane travel and secret meetings. It’s a cruel reminder that not everyone has a 24 hour flight to the UK or America and you can duck over for clandestine romantic meetings.  One thing I kept thinking about was bodyguards and paparazzi. The amount of secret meetings these two got was amazing, there only seemed to be one personal guard for each of them that let them do whatever they wanted. It was hard to imagine that actually happening.

The ages of the characters brings this YA firmly into the New Adult category because most of the main characters are in their early 20s and the consenting, vigorous sexual encounters Alex and Henry both enjoy is also a bit much for your younger teen. It isn’t overly graphic, but there is a lot of lust between Alex and Henry and McQuiston isn’t shy in the writing. The text and email exchanges between Henry and Alex are some of the best bits. It alternates between fun and flirty, to serious and deep, to drunk and sexual.

Whether it’s because Alex was the main voice we got to see more of his personality shine but I never quite got more of Henry’s. We’re told he’s shy and nervous about coming out, plus his public persona versus his private is naturally different, but while we are given facts about his interests and hobbies they felt like a one dimensional addition. I don’t think I noticed at the time, but as I thought more about it I couldn’t see Henry as having quite as much explored depth as Alex, even with all the information about him. Some characters I forgot existed entirely until they turned up again which was fine they weren’t always part of the story, but Alex felt the most developed out of all of them.

It’s a curious experience to not truly connect with a main character until the final 100 pages but it wasn’t until the very end did I actually become invested in Alex. I loved how McQuiston explores the aftermath and Alex’s reaction to it because that was when I felt a connection to him. His coping mechanism resonated with me and I adored how McQuiston put us in the moment as Alex experiences emotions and events around him, it felt like a completely different way than he’d been presented previously.

This is a book for those in the US who know and understand their political system. It’s for a specific group and for those outside the US it is possible to still understand what is going so we know what is at stake, and to McQuiston’s credit enough is explained that I understood  without needing to know the full ins and out of the political system. Having a main character the son of the president there’s going to be a lot of inescapable politics in the story and their life. McQuiston alternates between barely a mention to suddenly flooding the pages and back again. There are a few jabs to the US and UK political environment I quite enjoyed, though it’s also a “wink, wink” kind of moment in some places that rely on you knowing about the political system and past events. Even as a non-American I know more than I care too about the US political system simple because you can’t really ignore it, but even things I didn’t completely understand I understood was a Thing and meant Something but not understanding didn’t mean I was lost on the story. McQuiston uses characters and the plot well to discuss the political world.

In terms of story it is predictable, but people seem to not mind that when it’s a romance. It is an idealised, utopian world where even the few issues there were never felt like actual issues, but people don’t seem to mind that either. I didn’t hate it, I think understanding though that the utopian world that’s created here can actually go beyond normalcy and possible and into unrealistic events and situations.

What I found curious is that looking at it, the book doesn’t seem long, but reading it, it is long. I felt like it was never going to end, and as I say, I didn’t hate it, but waiting and waiting for The Thing to happen so we could move on from it took most of the book. The consequences are over and done with relatively simply. Both the UK and US press never would have let half of this stuff happen, and while you can become focused on the romance and the group of twenty somethings making friends and having fun, you can’t really ignore the fake, idealistic world they are existing in. McQuiston is trying too hard to make it perfect and it doesn’t always come across as a good thing when you do it this poorly.

You can purchase Red, White, and Royal Blue via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Published: 14th February 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. It begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

With a story like this it’s going to be a tough read and it was, sweet at times but filled with sadness too. Initially I thought Wonder was about a teenager, not too old but maybe 13 or 14. When I realised he was only ten, that he was only a child it was such a shock, I hate thinking of little kids being mean to each other because you know it’s not always their own opinions they’re repeating. It was easier to think of them as 14 but I had to constantly remind myself these kids are only in primary school.

It was mainly my own interpretations of their age because Palacio captures the voice of the child narrators wonderfully and it really reads like kids of ten or eleven are telling you the story, giving their sides of the experience. Each voice stands out and through actions and dialogue their personalities come to the surface.

Auggie himself is a complete sweetie. He is smart and kind and he has adapted brilliantly to his circumstances and how he interacts and deals with people. This is very much a story where everyone else needs to learn to accept Auggie, not one where he needs to learn to be ok with himself. Auggie knows who he is and what he is capable of and having his little shining light through everyone else’s cruelty and unkindness makes you proud of him.

I liked that Palacio really brought home the point that Auggie is a normal kid, no disability or special needs, he was just a kid that looked different on the outside from something out of his control.  The fact that he has had to deal with this his whole life makes him acutely aware of the remarks, the side glances and the staring people do to him and yet he remains a good natured person. He is an adorable kid that powers through and is ok in himself and while obviously he is a bit hurt what others say, it doesn’t bother him too much.

The different points of view are an excellent choice as it allows you to see other people’s perspectives of events and offers up more not only to their character, but it enriches the entire story. We get to hear from classmates at school but also people close to Auggie. I loved Auggie’s whole family, they are so much fun. His dad, mum, and sister are delightful and it’s fascinating to see and hear how they have managed to work their lives into remarkable normalcy around Auggie.

I found that I came to admire these characters. For their love and support, but also for their strength and determination to prove that there was nothing wrong. That yes, Auggie looked different but he was still a kid. He had feelings, he wanted friends, and he wanted to feel accepted like anyone else. Palacio has told a heart-warming story filled with love but also exploring how everyone is different and that kindness can come from anywhere.

You can purchase Wonder via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Published: 31st October 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Random House Children’s Publishers UK
Pages: 348
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

I can’t believe I waited so long to read this book. I loved it. I loved the unique characters, the different experiences they’d had and the different lives they both lived, and I loved how Yoon makes an entire day feel so long and life changing. I simply adore books that take part in one day but feel like many more. This a full day of so many experiences that make you realise all the possibilities that can happen in one day. It also helps being in New York City because there’s heaps more things to do and transport between places is infinitely simpler.

Both Daniel and Natasha felt like real people. They had experiences behind them, complications in their present lives, and hopes and dreams that are so different from one another but stem from the same desire to live their lives how they want. There is instalove but the way Yoon portrays it is with a feeling, or instinct; there is a connection felt between them which neither can truly ignore. It isn’t just they love each other after a day, there is actual effort in trying to understand one another and an ease when the two interact.

There are a few moments where both of them can be insufferable. But I think it’s important to remember that at 17 these kids are in their own worlds. Natasha has a crisis in her life which brings out her selfishness and her pessimism, while as a poet Daniel is always going to be a cringy teen romantic. I think enough credit isn’t given to Natasha that while Daniel can be weird, Natasha doesn’t have to keep engaging him. Her own curiosities and self-proclaimed connection intrigues her and yes Daniel can come across as pushy and stalkery but if we keep pointing this out it takes away some magic, which is what these stories are all about.

The story is filled with moments that show the flow on effect on people’s actions. How one simple act creates a butterfly effect and small moments can result in bigger things that impact on more than just the lives involved. The writing is incredible, it’s profound without being over the top, there are some beautiful sentences and thoughts expressed that show the issues everyday people face and how deep the everyday can be.

It is a wonderful story about how passion can be a gift or a downfall, dreamers and realists coming together and having an effect on each other’s lives. Yoon explores the fascinating debate about love, fate, and destiny through the story and with three narrators – Natasha, Daniel, and The Universe – you see the different perspectives and learn about secondary characters in quite a poetic way. The structure is perfect and Yoon has stitched together these moments into the main story so it still flows seamlessly and each added bit of info adds a lot of context and explanation in a fantastic tone.

Secondary characters, while only being brief a lot of the time, felt full and complete. With different narrators you see different sides of the characters so you understand them quite well even when they are only present for a brief while. The ending is curious because you get answers and you don’t. And for all the coincidences throughout there are still lives at stake that can be impacted on by the decisions and whims of other people which may change paths completely. I can understand how people can see this as fanciful and unrealistic, but from the very beginning I was invested in this story. I loved how the story didn’t go where I thought it would and I loved the narrative dynamics.

You can purchase The Sun is Also a Star via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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